Interview with Secretary of Pontifical Biblical Commission
ROME, APRIL 19,
2002 - Christianity cannot be understood without knowledge of the
Jewish Scriptures, say a pair of scholars from both faiths.
In a constant effort to serve the Church, the Regina
Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum searches for new ways to support the
Pope in his quest for Ecumenical dialogue. The most recent
contribution was the debate that took place in the
framework of the conference "John Paul II and Church Dialogue
in the 21st Centur". The conference was organized in collaboration
with the Catholic Studies Program of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics
and Public Policy Center.
Rabbi David Novak, professor of Jewish studies
at the University of Toronto and author of "Jewish-Christian Dialogue:
A Jewish Justification" (see ZENIT, April 18), was on the
Jewish side at a debate here Thursday.
Father Albert Vanhoye,
secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and professor emeritus of
exegesis of the New Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute,
was on the Christian side.
The debate took place in
the framework of the conference "John Paul II and Church
Dialogue in the 21st Century," held at the Regina Apostolorum
Pontifical Athenaeum. The conference was organized in collaboration with the
Catholic Studies Program of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public
The debate followed shortly after the Vatican Press
Office published the English translation of the document "The Jewish
People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible." This
document was first published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, to
"be more aware of the fraternal ties that closely unite
Christians with the Jewish people."
Q: What are the ties
that Jews and Christians share, which are highlighted in the
Father Vanhoye: It is important to recall the Jewish
origin of the Christian community. This community believes in Jesus
of Nazareth, a son of these people, as are also
the Twelve he chose "to be with him, and to
be sent out to preach" (Mark 3:14).
In the beginning,
apostolic preaching was addressed only to Jews and proselytes. Therefore,
Christianity was born at the heart of first-century Judaism; then
it gradually separated from it, but the Church has never
forgotten its Jewish roots, clearly evidenced in the New Testament,
even giving Jews a priority, as the Gospel is a
divine force for the salvation of all those who believe:
"to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans
Q: What is the relation between the Old and
New Testaments? How important is it?
Father Vanhoye: The Christian
reading of the Old Testament is certainly different from the
Jewish, as it is done in the light of Christ.
However, the document "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures
in the Christian Bible" warns against underestimating the Old Testament,
stating that the Old Testament has enormous value in itself
as Word of God. The document shows that the Jewish
people´s sacred Scriptures are a fundamental part of the Christian
In the preface, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, president of the
Biblical Commission, points out forcefully that the Church has never
accepted the rejection of the Old Testament as something that
is too imperfect. It condemned this error in Marcion (85-160
A.D.), [an error] which unfortunately was rearticulated last century by
a Protestant exegete.
The document also states that the relations
between the Scriptures and oral tradition are analogous in Christianity
and Judaism, and that the New Testament uses Jewish exegetical
Q: Why has this document been published?
The document makes Christians aware that we really have a
lot in common with Jews, and not just in secondary
matters, but in fundamental questions. In fact, it ends by
saying: "Dialogue is possible because Jews and Christians possess a
rich common patrimony that unites them, and it must be
promoted to increasingly eliminate prejudices and misunderstandings on the part
of one another, to favor better knowledge of the common
patrimony, and to reinforce reciprocal ties.